The focus so far this season may have been on the youth, but today against Wolves, two of Chelsea’s veteran players will take center stage. Or left and right stage, as it were.
With Emerson out due to a thigh injury and Reece James not yet recovered from his ankle surgery, Marcos Alonso and César Azpilicueta will both start against Wolves. Those two names together have been ubiquitous in Chelsea starting lineups for the last three years, and Azpi even longer than that, despite constant (in Alonso’s case) and recent (in Azpi’s case) doubts from the media and fans.
Lampard of course has plenty of faith in both, and moved specifically to ... defend ... Azpilicueta, who’s fallen victim to the narrative after being exposed at both ends of the pitch.
“I played with Azpilicueta and I know him very well. He’s the first player to stand up, which is the reason he’s captain because of that professionalism and attitude, and he’s been an incredible player for the club. He will be more aware than anyone of his form but he’ll also be the first one who’ll want to address it and look to do that in every minute of training. He’s a big player for us, a great personality and I’m hugely behind him.
“I remember countless times in my career playing with players who had these moments for whatever reasons and the top players come through it. Azpilicueta is a top player for us but I don’t think there are any major issues there. In the modern day, when all eyes are on you, people will react to any little mistake and players just have to put up with that.”
While Lampard appears to acknowledge that Azpilicueta is mired in a bit of a slump, the problems that the captain has been scapegoated for extend well beyond his position. And the head coach acknowledges that as well, even though it’s he who sets up the team and the fullbacks to be so stretched.
“It’s not a back four issue, it’s a team issue and it’s something we have to address across the board. We’ve obviously conceded more than we want to so it’s our job to put it right. Some of the goals we’ve conceded have been either individual errors or us giving away possession which leads to the opposition scoring so we always try to look at both sides of the game.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC
Azpilicueta, whose greatest seasons came as a lock-down left back behind Eden Hazard, or as right-sided ball-playing center back in Conte’s back three, has been asked to deliver crosses at one end (not his best quality) and also defend without help at the other end. It’s recipe for disaster that won’t be solved just by putting Reece James (or whoever) in there instead.
Here’s blogfather Graham to explain it in a tweet.
'standard' fullback play, where they're responsible for both providing crosses from deep in opposition territory AND preventing them from deep in defensive positions, is an absurdity. cannot possibly do both well in a game with fast transitions— Graham MacAree (@MacAree) September 13, 2019
In a game that’s so interconnected and interdependent on all eleven players as football, it’s rare that a single player would be the cause to every ailment. Azpilicueta could probably play better, but he could also have better cover, better help, and a better tactical setup if we are to ever stop leaking two goals to every team we come across.
Conte solved this problem by adding an extra center back. Mourinho solved this by reining it at least one of the full backs. Hopefully we’ll find out soon what Lampard’s solution is.
“[We spent the international break] with work. It is a mixed bag this period, so we lose a lot of players to internationals so the ones who were here have been working and resting. You have to give them some days with their families at the front end of it. Working. More on conditioning, really, because we are still in the early stages of the season so there isn’t much tactics that you can do without the big group.
“We have worked hard, we now have the players back, relatively decent and fit. In large. We are ready for the weekend.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Football.London
Ready as we’ll ever be at this point, I suppose. Up and at ‘em!